Conspiracy Theories Never Die: RBG Edition

Conspiracy Theories Never Die: RBG Edition March 18, 2019

For weeks we’ve heard crazy conspiracy theories that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was actually dead and everyone was covering up that fact after her recent cancer scare. SCOTUSBlog did a little experiment to see how those who spread such conspiracies reacted to proof they were wrong — her actual presence on the bench. The results were quite predictable; the overwhelming majority of those people either ignored it completely as if nothing happened or found some new conspiracy to rationalize it away.

They tracked 82 Twitter accounts that had spread the conspiracy. Each one had more than 10,000 followers because they wanted to focus on the most influential of them. The most popular of them, belonging to actor James Woods, has nearly 2 million followers. And he was among the very few that corrected his earlier advocacy when Ginsburg was on the bench on Feb. 15th, noting that she had appeared in public. But most of the accounts did not do so, only 10 out of 82.

This leaves 69 (84 percent) who did not acknowledge Ginsburg’s return. We attempted to contact each of these users to report about Ginsburg’s return and to ask them whether they intended to inform their followers of the truth. We sent a direct message through Twitter to 41 users (50 percent of our sample). With slight variation depending on what the user had tweeted, we sent the following message: “We noticed that after Justice Ginsburg missed oral arguments in January, you questioned her status and called for proof of life. She’s now heard every oral argument in February, and yesterday she released two opinions from the bench. We’re wondering when you plan to update your followers on the truth of the matter. Please advise. Thank you.”

Roughly half of those we messaged (21 out of 41) did not respond to us. Of these, three blocked us. Including the 28 who never followed us back, 49 of the 69 who did not address Ginsburg’s return (71 percent) ignored our outreach. One user, with 40,000 followers, did not directly reply to us, but did tweet a screenshot of our DM with the text, “Someone @scotusblog has a lotta nerve.”

We did receive 20 responses to our DMs (49 percent of those we messaged; 24 percent of our overall total). We’ll now detail these responses more closely.

Ten users insisted on further proof. This was the largest category of rebuttal from those who did respond to our outreach…

The accounts that we tracked and attempted to contact all have some measure of influence. We limited our search to accounts with more than 10,000 followers because we wanted to see how popular users — who are, presumably, concerned about their reputation and image — would react when confronted with the fact that conspiracy theories they pushed had been refuted. Only 16 percent publicly acknowledged Ginsburg’s return. Those who did not (80 percent of the accounts we tracked) have chosen to ignore or actively dispute evidence of her return to the court.

Completely unsurprising to me. Once you go down the rabbit hole of such conspiracy theories, it’s incredibly rare to come to the surface again. Evidence against the conspiracy is magically transformed into evidence for some new variation on the conspiracy, usually. It just keeps getting more and more bizarre, but rarely does the evidence matter one bit. They are so emotionally wedded to their conspiracies that they are incapable of rational thought entirely.

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